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A movement grows at American University

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It is truly amazing what can be accomplished these days when the Internet has given students the power to think for themselves and organize like-minded individuals. Two young adults with nothing to lose and everything to gain have embarked on a journey for peace in the Middle East. Joshua Michaels, a Jewish American, and Ibraheem Samirah, a Palestinian American, are seniors at American University in Washington, DC, and recently founded a campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that deals with the Israel/Palestine conflict. For those of you who don’t know, Jewish Voice for Peace is a democratic community of activists that work within the Jewish tradition of fighting for justice, equality, and human rights in Israel/Palestine. The first time I met Josh; he told me he had just done his birthright trip to Israel. It was clear from our first conversation that Josh was a very intelligent person, and well educated on the subject matter. After talking in great depth about Peter Beinart’s book, I showed him my favorite website for Israel/Palestine news, +972 Magazine. I told him to take a look at the website, read as many articles as possible by Noam Sheizaf, and then to let me know if him and Ibraheem wanted to be the founders for the AU chapter. Within 24 hours, Ibraheem and Josh approached me saying, “We’re in.”

Jewish Voice for Peace at American University is a safe haven for those American Jews who lay awake at night wondering why their religious and cultural identity is being transformed into a religious nationalist movement that oppresses another people. Once the chapter was launched at AU, the members started to pour in one by one. Slowly, members of JVP at AU started to realize that their message of peace and equality was having a profound impact on both Jewish and non-Jewish students at AU (the most politically active campus in the United States). JVP at AU is an organization that invites American Jews to not be silent when the Israeli government commits its human rights violations against the Palestinian people. When Ibraheem and I discussed the chapter’s mission, he told me, “I want people to approach the topic from a human rights point of view. The effects of occupation hinder human dignity on both sides. I am a Palestinian, but when I look at this conflict, I don’t just see Palestinians suffering, I see human beings suffering, now and in the future. Protecting human rights will benefit Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

We all remember a time when we were taught to “love thy neighbor as we love ourselves.” As a kid, I remember being fascinated when my parents and grandparents told me stories about all the Jews who lead revolutionary social movements here in America. For example, a Jewish American hero named Andrew Goodman was killed in Mississippi for trying to register African Americans to vote at the polls. American Jews have a history of speaking out against social injustices around the world, voicing the battle cry Tikkun Olam. That being said, it should not be a surprise that American Jews on campuses all across America end up playing a central role in the fight for equal rights in Israel/Palestine.

Jewish Voice for Peace at American University was launched to counter the hasbara from organizations like J Street and American University Students for Israel. While JVP at AU welcomes J Street’s efforts to open the dialogue within the Jewish community on campus, JVP at AU offers an alternative solution by promoting the international non-violent movement BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). JVP at AU uses BDS tactics to call attention to products and companies that are profiting off the occupation and to move beyond the stilted two-state approach. While J Street does offer American Jews on campus the opportunity to speak up against the Israeli government’s actions and policies, they do very little in terms of advocating for Palestinian rights. J Street was created for the purpose of promoting a “peaceful two-state solution” to the conflict. However, people who are becoming active in JVP at AU realize that this “peaceful two-state solution” is code for ethnic cleansing. How better to demonstrate this point than the Lieberman-Livni plan of transferring Israel’s Arab population from their homes and into a Palestinian state, which J street as an organization supports. At JVP at AU, such a population transfer would reek of ethnic cleansing and we say to this, “NOT IN OUR NAME.”

With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu forming a super-party alongside neo-fascist Avigdor Lieberman, the time is now for organizations like JVP at AU to lead by example for college campuses all across America. JVP at AU advocates for a halt to the 3.3 billion dollars of American taxpayer money, an end to Israel’s 45-year illegal occupation, equal rights for Palestinians under the law, and a resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem consistent with international law and equity. What started out, as a dream that two activists had is now becoming a reality. As the Jewish Voice for Peace liaison to the American University Chapter, I have watched this chapter grow overnight. I can say firsthand that this particular group of young Jewish Americans have something to say and will not be intimidated or silenced by the American Jewish establishment.

Benjamin Lawrence

Benjamin Lawrence is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and graduated from American University in the class of 2012.

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6 Responses

  1. Krauss on November 30, 2012, 12:48 pm

    Glorious. All I can add to your excellent post is that the arc of life do bend towards justice in the long run. The situation now will not be tolerated over the decades and it is likely that you’ll see enormous change, for the better, in the region, but it will be in stop-gap pace. I hope that you’ll have some influence over this, however small, in your corner of the world when it happens at an increasing speed. In some ways, that may already have begun.

  2. Oklahoma farmer on November 30, 2012, 1:08 pm

    I’m looking for a college proactive student group to put on stage a short one act play titled The Prison Called Gaza….

    You can Google it on Mondoweiss.

    It does require very brave students….. Anyone interested contact me. Am not in it for money, but for justice, so no playwright fee

  3. annie on November 30, 2012, 1:20 pm

    benjamin, thanks for your article about how you started JVP chapter on AU’s campus. i assume you’re the same wonderful students shelly from DC JVP was telling me about just the other day over the phone (if not get in touch with her asap!). fantastic.

  4. Oklahoma farmer on November 30, 2012, 2:15 pm

    Annie….I see you’re reviewing comments. This isn’t for posting on Mondo…. So….Annie…you surely remember the play The Prison ….

    What the hell better way to get the Gaza thingy in front of the public than a play? It’s been tried with Rachel with little result. Please help me help Gazans. Be thinking of a way to get it on stage in the US. You know damned well a firestorm of mega proportions would erupt, and it would help Gazans for sure…

    Get back to me with my address [email protected] I swear not to divulge your address to anyone.

    Promise… double dog promise. Hoyt

  5. Nevada Ned on November 30, 2012, 4:36 pm

    Sounds great.
    I suspect that part of the key to success was having a Jewish student and a Palestinian student on board at the beginning. I think that would give the fledgling organization more credibility among the majority of students, who are neither Jewish nor Palestinian.

  6. foresomenteneikona on November 30, 2012, 7:34 pm

    “How better to demonstrate this point than the Lieberman-Livni plan of transferring Israel’s Arab population from their homes and into a Palestinian state, which J street as an organization supports.”

    This is not accurate; J Street supports no such thing. On the contrary, it has clearly labeled Lieberman an extremist and recognizes that he is an obstacle to a just peace.

    It’s one thing to criticize J Street because they do little to advocate for the rights of Palestinians for their own sake (which is true), or that they do not recognize the injustice done to Palestinian refugees (which in my opinion is also true). It is another to suggest that J Street supports further ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (which is false).

    I found most of this piece encouraging and inspiring, but the comments about J Street were unnecessary and undeserved, and they spoiled this post for me.

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